Be skeptical that Cambridge Analytica won the election for Trump

By Jacob Solis

I won’t dispute that the data breach is unethical, because it most certainly is. But much of the media coverage surrounding this scandal has failed to counter (or worse, actively propped up) the narrative that Cambridge Analytica essentially won the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump.

It’s hard to say that this is definitively false — after all, there’s no way to know why someone voted the way they did — but to ascribe Trump’s victory to Cambridge is to put too much faith in political advertising.

More specifically, Cambridge’s claim that “psychographic microtargeting,” or the use of personality and psychological traits such as neuroticism to create personal advertising profiles, allowed for more effective targeted advertising is just great salesmanship by political consultants who are actively trying to sell a service (that service being, well, psychographic microtargeting, of course).

That hasn’t stopped people from freaking out about it, though. It’s something Vox called “shockingly effective,” citing statistics that bots flooded the internet with targeted ads for Trump at very specific, very strategic times.

The only problem? Just because someone sees an ad, even if that ad was tailored to them, it doesn’t mean they changed their mind.

The connection between political advertising and an actual change in voting behavior is tenuous at best. There have been a number of studies by political scientists over the years investigating this very question, and while those studies are often limited in scope, they point to one conclusion: ads can only ever account for a tiny percentage of a shift in votes (think: 1 percent or less), and even if ads change the way a voter thinks, the change might not even last long enough to matter.

And this ignores things like the fact that a vast majority of voters make up their minds long before they ever head to the polls, or that the people with the most indecision are often not likely to vote because they just don’t care enough to know who to pick.

So if the ads themselves are less-than-effective in the first place, how would using psychographic profiling to target those ads change the way those ads function? How you receive the ad or political message doesn’t matter if, at its core, the ad or message doesn’t change.

Feel about the breach how you will, but those in the American left must face it: Cambridge Analytica didn’t win an election, Trump did. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the myriad ways in which the Democratic Party managed to self-destruct in an election tailor-made for a win.

Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Jacob Solis studies journalism. He can be reached at and on Twitter @nevadasagebrush


We should be worried about Facebook’s data sharing

By Ryan Suppe

Yes, Facebook is tracking everything you do. And, yes they are selling that data to big corporations and interest groups who want to sell you something. And it’s a helluva lot easier to sell you something when they know everything about you.

What does this have to do with the 2016 presidential election? Certain groups wanted to sell you Donald Trump as a candidate. And how did they do it? By targeting the most vulnerable voters and exploiting their political biases.

Cambridge Analytica is a data mining and analysis firm that works in elections around the world. They collect data and use it to sway voters in elections that they’re hired to influence. If that doesn’t already make your skin crawl, you should hear what a Channel 4 News investigation found out about some of their tactics.

I might be bitter about the outcome of the election and the fact that the Trump campaign had help from shady data mining in its victory, but I’m more bitter about Facebook selling personal information about me to political groups. I can hang up the phone when campaigners call and ask me questions before an election, my voting history is kept private from public records but I’m helpless when Facebook decides to share my data.

Look at the type of companies they are sharing your data with.

It’s as if you’re being monitored and they’re looking for what you like to watch, who you talk to, how you talk and how you might feel about particular issues. The “they” who do the collection is a group you’ve never heard of and you’ve definitely never consented to allow psychographic study on your likes and interests.

Cambridge Analytica collects this data from Facebook and do psychographic profiling based on what they find. Bots send political ads to the users who will probably be most vulnerable to the persuasive messaging.

Cambridge Analytica is far from the only third party group collecting data from Facebook. Cook County, Illinois is suing Facebook, asserting Facebook is no longer a social media site but “the largest data mining company in existence.”

Robert Mercer, the conservative computer scientist and hedge fund manager, is a key investor in Cambridge Analytica. Mercer used to work for IBM. The super-computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL (each letter of the acronym one off from IBM), monitored the daily activities of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft Discovery One and decided to murder them when they were no longer necessary. A coincidence? Yeah, that’s probably a stretch.

It’s not a stretch to say Facebook is selling our data to shady actors. What those actors do with our data may never be known to us. All we can do is unplug the wires and watch the super-computer slowly die.

Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Ryan Suppe studies journalism and philosophy. He can be reached at and on Twitter @salsuppe